Blog: Shatner 'Twilight Zone' plane episode actress dies

8:45 PM, May 19, 2013   |    comments
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It's hard to believe that it will be 50 years on Oct. 11 that TV viewers had their first glimpse of The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet."

We are reminded of this because it was revealed this weekend that actress Christine White, the woman who played the wife of freaking-out airplane passenger Robert Wilson -- played by William Shatner -- died April 14.

White was 86 and died in a nursing home in Washington. We don't know why the announcement was delayed but it's notable that she didn't have a big career but was defined by that one role. She did other TV shows but will be remembered for that role.

Those that remember that episode can remember the absolute terror it inspired.

In a nutshell, Robert Wilson, a salesman, had just been released from a sanitarium. Six months earlier, he had suffered a mental breakdown -- on an airplane.

Shatner, who most of you only know as Capt. Kirk from Star Trek or the Priceline guy, went from anxiety to near madness as he tries to warn other passengers about the "gremlin" he sees tampering with the airplane's left wing, a gremlin that only he can see.

His wife, Julia, tries to keep her composure as her husband becomes increasingly terrified. Now remember, this episode in Season 5 was only 25 minutes long but it scared the heck out of people for months.

It became one of the most-remembered episodes of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling's creepy/intellectual series that scared us with weird episodes on a weekly basis.

But I digress.

White takes a sleeping pill to doze during the flight but Shatner keeps her awake. At one point he begs her to tell the flight crew what he is seeing, even though when she looks out or others do, the gremlin is nowhere in sight.

Why? Because the gremlin moves out of sight when anyone other than Shatner looks out.

After repeated attempts to warn the crew, Bob is desperate, steals a sleeping police officer's revolver, and opens the window marked "Auxiliary Exit" to shoot the gremlin, succeeding despite the fact that he is nearly blown out of the plane himself.

Once the plane lands, Bob is taken away in a straitjacket, as everyone believes that he has gone insane.

But that's not the end. The episode's narrator, Serling himself, tells viewers that Bob's stay will be short-lived, and the final shot of the episode reveals why -- the gremlin has left evidence of Bob's story in the form of the damaged wing.

Yes, I know there are scary movies and scary TV shows but you have to understand that, back in the early 60s, the only scary stuff we saw were movies in the movie theaters.

The Twilight Zone was "must see TV" every week before there was even a tagline like that.


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